November 29, 2021

Dutch IVF clinic tries hard, could do better

26 women may have received wrong sperm

The eggs of 26 women at a Dutch IVF clinic may have been fertilised with the wrong sperm. The University Medical Centre (UMC) in Utrecht has warned its clients that a “procedural error” may have mismatched the sperm used to create their future child. Of the 26 women, nine have already given birth and four are pregnant. The embryos of the other 13 are still frozen and awaiting implantation.

The UMC is still not sure whether the mix-up occurred in every case, but it cannot rule out the possibility. It has apoligised, has launched an investigation, and is offering free counselling and a free DNA test to the affected women.

The embryos were created with ICSI, a method of fertilisation which is particularly popular in European clinics, even though it is associated with a slightly elevated risk of birth abnormalities. A single sperm is injected into the egg with a very fine pipette.

The UMC discovered the error when a technician noticed that the rubber top at the end of the pipette contained sperm from a previous procedure.

David Keefe, an American IVF doctor at New York University, says that his department seldom uses ICSI.  “This is one of many examples where it can go awry,” he told The Washington Post. “It’s very sobering that one of the very best fertility centers in the most regulated country in the world still had risk.”

Jesper Smeenk, spokesman for the Dutch Federation of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, said that the mistake was rare. “I’m a little bit worried that the general population will have the idea that IVF. is something that isn’t safe or hasn’t been safe or will not be safe anymore,” Dr. Smeenk told the New York Times. “As long as the strict protocols are being followed by people in the laboratory or in the field, it is safe. In this case, a human error occurred because one person didn’t follow the protocols.”

In another IVF development, a Czech clinic troubled by human error has resulted in two children in the wrong wombs. At Reprofit, a clinic which is popular with British couples, it was discovered that two foreign women had been implanted with an embryo meant for another couple. Under Czech law, the birth mother is the legal mother. “It was a human error, not a system failure,” said a clinic official. “The people who manipulated the embryos are suspended.”

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